Case study: how volunteering can help change your career

Meet Mark. He changed his career in his late 40s through volunteering, and now works his dream job as a successful gardener for a stately home in Yorkshire, UK. This is his story of how he “turned a crap situation into a brilliant one”, and his top tips for how volunteering can help change your career.

how volunteering can change your career on your career break

Mark shows off the results of his handiwork. I want one of these for Hallowe’en!

When Mark was made redundant from his middle-management marketing job five years ago, he thought his world had come to an end.

“It felt catastrophic,” he told me. “But after I’d come round a bit, I wanted to use the situation as an opportunity, rather than see it only as a disaster.”

After an initial period volunteering in marketing roles to keep his skills fresh on his enforced career-break, Mark thought more deeply about what he really liked doing. Marketing didn’t make the list.

His passion? Gardening.

Despite some green fingers and a home that comes complete with chickens, beehives, and a well-stocked veggie patch, Mark had no formal experience or qualifications in anything horticultural.

“I looked at where I was at the time, and where I wanted to be”

Mark tells me. “I knew I had the passion for gardening, and some informal experience. But I had to work out how I was going to get more commercial gardening experience and training to allow me to make gardening my new career.”

“Volunteering seemed like the best way to go about making the change, and I did some odd gardening jobs for friends and neighbours too.”

how volunteering can change your career on your career break. Nostell Priory.

Nostell Priory, Yorkshire

Mark volunteered part-time at Nostell Priory, an 18th century stately home in Yorkshire set in 300 acres of parkland.

He says: “It was a bit of an eye-opener at first – the resources were more limited than I was used to, and it made me wonder if some big corporates couldn’t learn something about being a bit more creative in how they achieve their aims.”

The job offer

Mark’s hard work as a volunteer gardener came to fruition about a year later, when he was the successful candidate for a vacancy as a paid full-time gardener.

“This job feels like something I can believe in,” he says. “I have responsibility for my own area of garden here and my own ten-year-plan for it, so it’s a different kind of responsibility from the corporate office environment.”

how volunteering can change your career on your career break. Nostell Priory

Meadows as well as more formal gardens surround Nostell Priory

“I feel proud of my work, and of what I’ve achieved. It took a while, but by volunteering I managed to turn a crap situation into a brilliant one.”

Mark’s top tips on how to change your career through volunteering

  1. Be a sponge. Take it all in and be seen to work hard and be enthusiastic about learning new things.
  2. Be kind to everyone you work with. Colleagues, customers etc. When that dream job does come up, you don’t want the boss to think you’re a difficult person who they don’t want on their team.
  3. Keep the faith. It can take a while for your career-change dreams to come to fruition. But keep at it!

Useful resources

  • Do-it.org is a database of UK volunteering vacancies
  • The CareerShifters crew have all sorts of useful advice about how to change your career, plus loads of inspirational stories to kick-start your motivation for change

Have you volunteered to help change your career? Or have you found an un-planned career-change as a result of volunteering? Share your volunteering stories below.

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